Information about the Canaan Dog

The Canaan dog, known in Israel as and other Levantine countries as is a Canaanite breed of pariah dog recognized as Israel’s national breed. It may have existed in the eastern Mediterranean seaboard for millennia, as referenced in ancient carvings and drawings. There are 2,000 to 3,000 Canaan dogs across the world, mostly in Europe and North America.

The Canaan dog is a typical mongrel in appearance. It is a medium-sized dog, with a wedge-shaped head, medium-sized, erect and low set ears with a broad base and rounded tips. Its outer coat is dense, harsh and straight of short to medium-length. The undercoat should be close and profuse according to season. Color ranges from black to cream and all shades of brown and red between, usually with small white markings, or all white with colour patches. Spotting of all kinds is permitted, as well as white or black masks.

Rudolphina Menzel, an immigrant to Mandate Palestine from Austria, having studied the desert mongrels and the variations in appearances, classified these canines into four types: 1) heavy, sheepdog appearance, 2) dingo-like appearance, 3) Border Collie appearance, 4) Greyhound appearance. Menzel concluded that the Canaan dog is a derivative of the Type III mongrel, the collie type (referring to the type of farm collie found in the 1930s, which was a medium dog of moderate head type more similar to today’s border collie, not the modern rough coated collie).

In writing the first official standard for the Canaan dog, Menzel wrote: “Special importance must be placed on the points that differentiate the Canaan-dog from the German Shepard dog, whose highly bred form he sometimes resembles: the Canaan-dog is square, the loin region short, the forequarters highly erect, the hindquarters less angulated, the neck as noble as possible, the tail curled over the back when excited, the trot is short (see also differences in head and color)”.

Type varies somewhat between the lines of other Canaan dogs and those found in Israel and the rest of the world.

Canaan dogs have a strong survival instinct. They are quick to react and wary of strangers, and will alert to any disturbances with prompt barking, thus making them excellent watchdogs. Though defensive, they are not aggressive and are very good with children within the family, but may be wary of other children or defensive when your child is playing with another child. They are intelligent and learn quickly, but may get bored with repetitive exercises or ignore commands if they find something of more interest.

Canaan Dogs can compete in dog agility trials, obedience, showmanship, flyball, tracking, and herding events. Herding instincts and trainability can be measured at noncompetitive herding tests. Canaans exhibiting basic herding instincts can be trained to compete in herding trials.

In general, the Canaan dog does not suffer from known hereditary problems.

Although the breed is one of the healthiest, George A. Padgett, DVM, listed diseases that have been seen, at one time or another, in the Canaan dog: hypothyroidism, epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cryptorchidism, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, luxating patella, and osteochondritis dissecans (OCD).

The Canaan dog began in ancient times as a mongrel in ancient Canaan, where the Canaanites lived, roughly corresponding to the region encompassing modern-day Israel, Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and the western parts of Jordan.

This dog is one of the oldest, dating back to biblical times. The caves of Einan and Hayonim are sites in which the oldest remains of dogs have been found (more than 10,000 years ago). In the Bible there are a number of references to roaming dogs and dogs that worked for man.

In the Sinai Desert, a rock carving, from the first to third century AD, depicts a dog that in size and shape appears to be a Canaan type dog.

In Ashkelon, a graveyard was discovered, believed to be Phoenician from the middle of the fifth century BC. It contained 700 dogs, all carefully buried in the same position, on their sides with legs flexed and tail tucked in around the hind legs. According to the archaeologists, there was a strong similarity between these dogs and the “Bedouin mongrels,” or the Canaan dog. A sarcophagus dated from the end of the fourth century BC, was found in Sidon lebanon, on which Alexander the Great and the King of Sidon are painted hunting a lion with a hunting dog similar in build to the dogs of Ashkelon, and similar in appearance to the Canaan dog.

They survived this way until the 1930s, when Menzel came up with the idea to use these intelligent scavenger dogs mainly found in the desert, as guard dogs for the scattered Jewish settlements. Menzel was asked by the Haganah to help them build up a service dog organization (later to become Unit Oketz). She captured and acquired wild and semi-wild Canaan dogs. She worked with semi-free and free-living dogs of a specific type, luring them into her camp and gaining their trust. She also captured litters of puppies, finding them remarkably adaptable to domestication. The first successful adult she called Dugma (meaning example). Dr. Menzel found the dogs highly adaptable, trainable, and easy to domesticate. It took her about six months to capture Dugma, and within a few weeks she was able to take him into town and on buses.

She began a breeding program in 1934, providing working dogs for the military and she gave pups to be pets and home guard dogs. She initiated a selective breeding program to produce the breed known today as the Canaan dog.

In 1949 Menzel founded The Institute for Orientation and Mobility of the Blind, and in 1953, she started to train Canaan dogs as guide dogs for the blind. Although she was able to train several dogs, she found that the breed was too independent and too small for general guide dog use, although some of her dogs were used successfully by children.

Her breeding program was concentrated with the Institute, where a foundation of kennel-raised Canaan dogs was established, carrying the name “B’nei Habitachon”. She later supplied breeding stock to Shaar Hagai Kennels which continued in the breeding of the Canaan dog. After her death in 1973, Shaar Hagai Kennels continued the breeding program according to her instructions. In addition, a controlled collection of dogs of the original type was continued, primarily from the Bedouin of the Negev.

Collection of wild Canaan dogs has all but ceased. The last two dogs that were collected in the Negev in the mid-1990s, and most of the Canaan dogs living in the open were destroyed by the Israeli government in the fight against rabies. Even the majority of Bedouin dogs today are mixed with other breeds, although Myrna Shiboleth visits the Negev annually, looking for good specimens living by the Bedouin camps, that she can breed with her dogs and strengthen the gene pool.Dogs of the Desert
Breed recognition

The Canaan dog was first recognized by the Israel Kennel Club in 1953 and by the FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale) in 1966. The first accepted standard was written by Dr. Menzel.

The Kennel Club in the United Kingdom officially recognized the breed in December 1970.

In 1986, the first Canaan dogs were brought to Finland from Sha’ar Hagai Kennel, in Israel.

On September 7, 1965, Menzel sent four dogs to Ursula Berkowitz of Oxnard, California, the first Canaan dogs in the United States. The Canaan Dog Club of America was formed the same year, and stud book records were kept from these first reports. In June 1989, the Canaan dog entered the American Kennel Club Miscellaneous Class. Its profile was raised when John F. Kennedy Jr. purchased a Canaan dog in the 1990s. Canaan dogs were registered in the AKC Stud Book as of June 1, 1997. The dogs began competing in conformation on August 12, 1997.
Canaan dogs in Canada

The first Canaan dog came to Canada May 16, 1970. The dogs came from a kennel in Delaware.

The Canadian Canaan Club (CCC) was formed in 1972, and the first executive of the Club was elected on March 15, 1973. The club has since been dissolved.

The Canaan dog obtained entry into the Miscellaneous Class of the Canadian Kennel Club on December 1, 1975. In January 1993, the breed was accepted in the Working Group, as the Canadian Kennel Club did not have a Herding group at that time.

The first Canaan Dog was brought to the UK from Damascus in 1965, before they were a recognized breed.

In December 1970, they were recognized by the Kennel Club, and the breed was placed in the Utility Group.

In May 1992 the inaugural meeting of the Canaan Dog Club of the United Kingdom took place. Since 1996 the breed has begun to grow in numbers in the UK, though it is still quite numerically small.